Linda Benedict, Blanchard, Tobie M., McClure, Olivia J. | 11/12/2014 2:18:50 AM
LSU food science student studies in Honduras
With roots in Central America and a good grasp of the Spanish language, Maria Moore felt comfortable being one of the first students from LSU to do an exchange with Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The LSU AgCenter has been collaborating with Zamorano since the early 1990s and has hosted about 60 visiting scholars from the school since 2005. Zamorano was interested in hosting a student from LSU.
Moore, a senior in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences from Baton Rouge, spent three months this past summer at the university working in eight different food processing facilities run by the school and two laboratories, including one where she learned to make biodiesel. She also took a food packaging and a product development class.
“My goals were to enrich my Spanish language skills, learn the processing techniques at different plants and visit processing facilities across the country,” Moore said.
Moore worked in a dairy processing facility where she learned about milk pasteurization and homogenization and how to make cheese and other dairy products. She also worked in a bakery, honey facility, a meat processing plant, a feed and grain facility and two post-harvest fruit and vegetable facilities where she learned to grade and sort produce and make salsa, jams and marmalades.
“The products made at the school go to the supermarkets in the city and on campus,” Moore said.
In her product development class, Moore and her classmates were paired with food companies in Honduras to develop a new product. Her group made an oblea – a thin wafer-style cookie filled with a dulche de leche and topped with coconut and cocoa.
“We had a big fair at the end of the semester showing off all the products that we had developed for all those companies,” she said.
Zamorano has 1,000 students that mainly come from Central and South America. All students live on campus. Moore was the only American at the school. Moore’s mother is from Nicaragua, and Moore speaks Spanish, but technical terms at the processing facilities often stumped her.
“A lot of the employees at the facilities did not speak English. They would explain to me how to run a machine, and they would often use a word that I didn’t understand, so that was hard,” she said.
Moore has conducted research at LSU on the health benefits of cocoa and presented her findings to the American Chemical Society. She said she was interested in visiting a cacao plantation and processing facility in La Masica, Honduras. A friend of her family who lives in Honduras agreed to take her to the facility so she would not have to travel alone.
She said she was lucky to have someone take her because otherwise she would not have gone, and the experience was one of her favorite parts of her stay in Honduras. “They showed me everything you need to know about how to harvest the cacao plant, how to get the beans from it and to tell a good fruit from a bad fruit,” she said. ?
U.S., Slovakia share agriculture concerns
While the United States and Slovakia are different in many ways, the two countries’ agriculture industries share similar challenges.
In Slovakia, where farms were state-run from 1949 until 1993, the agriculture industry is struggling to recruit young people, said Danka Moravcíková, associate professor in the College of Continuing Education at the Slovakia University of Agriculture (SUA) in Nitra. The American workforce faces a similar shortage of new blood, with farms and life science companies unable to hire enough trained ag scientists.
Moravcíková and other SUA faculty were the featured speakers at the Oct. 6 Global Agriculture Hour, an event sponsored by LSU AgCenter International Programs that highlights the significance of international activities to Louisiana agriculture.
Representatives from the AgCenter, College of Agriculture and SUA formed an exchange program and signed a research agreement in July in Slovakia. SUA students will visit LSU in February, and LSU students will visit SUA in June, said David Picha, director of AgCenter International Programs.
SUA has about 10,000 students and offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs, including 20 that are taught in English, said Natália Turceková, assistant professor in the SUA Department of Economics.
Not many SUA graduates become farmers, Moravcíková said, which is concerning because the average age of a Slovakian farmer is over 50. Likewise, the average Louisiana farmer is 58.5 years old, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.
“We need to revitalize the sector,” Moravcíková said. “We need to attract young people.”
SUA Rector Peter Bielik said exchange programs like the one with LSU could help achieve that. Researchers will also benefit from the relationship by collaborating on research topics important to both Louisiana and Slovakia. ?
This article was published in the 2014 Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.